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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases

>R&B

Van Morrison, "Van Morrison at the Movies: Soundtrack Hits" (EMI). Even mediocre films -- most of them falling into the romantic comedy category -- can benefit from the sudden eruption of a Van Morrison track during a scene. The man's voice is so evocative, so readily able to summon empathy, pathos, pain, or a screaming banshee's soulfulness, that his best songs have been mini-movies themselves. Compiling all Morrison's movie soundtrack tunes might seem like a gratuitous repackaging of songs largely available elsewhere. But in this instance, the collection works as an album -- it kicks off with the smoky garage rock of Them plowing through "Gloria" and "Baby, Please Don't Go," and carries on through the Celtic soul of "Wonderful Remark" and a live version of "Into the Mystic," finally settling into the later-period soul of "Real Real Gone" and "Bright Side of the Road." That all of this stuff is profound should surprise no one. It is pleasantly surprising to note, however, that a collection that could have seemed arbitrary comes across instead as smart and solid. 4 stars (out of 4) (Jeff Miers)

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>Classical

Scriabin, Piano Music performed by John Ogdon (EMI Classics, two discs). The story of pianist John Ogdon is one of the more substantial tragedies in the classical world in the past half century. A huge, brilliant man of immense keyboard technique, he made a habit of finding obscure and fiendishly difficult repertoire and making himself right at home. He was, for instance, the pianist in the first major recording of Busoni's piano concerto. After a too-brief career, illness and mental breakdown bedevilled the rest of his life until his death in 1989 at the age of 52. His recorded legacy is precious and prodigious, not least his magnificent 1971 Scriabin recordings, including all 10 Sonatas and the best short pieces from all phrases of Scriabin's short life. Not for Ogdon were the mystic miasmas that seem to engulf some pianists when they play Scriabin. Every piece here -- even the late sonatas -- is a model of clarity and rhythmic precision, which predictably only enhances their Romantic fervor and febrile ecstasies. Ogdon is as good at playing Scriabin as anyone ever was. 4 stars(Jeff Simon)

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The Ars Nova Musicians Chamber Orchestra, "Viva Vivaldi Vignettes," Marylouise Nanna, conductor (Mark). The Ars Nova Musicians are Buffalo's chamber orchestra, our answer to Toronto's Tafelmusik or the Boston Baroque. Their Viva Vivaldi Festival, which takes place every November, is part of our musical tradition. This bright, irresistible CD is a celebration of a kaleidoscope of performances from 1996 through 2005. Because the Ars Nova (many of whom are in the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra) get a galaxy of other musicians involved in the festival, performers include guest artists such as soprano Sebnem Mekinulov, who gives a glowing rendition of a Vivaldi motet; tenor Timothy Schuman, recorded in St. Vincent de Paul Church, now the Montante Cultural Center. The Buffalo Suzuki Strings, a festival mainstay, were recorded last year in Holy Angels Church. The Buffalo Choral Arts Society, set off by the bright trumpet of Alex Jokipii and the pure, songful oboe of Paul Schlossman, turn out shining excerpts from a Vivaldi Mass. Other performances took place in First Presbyterian, Trinity Episcopal, the Unitarian Universalist Church, St. Michael's, Temple Beth Zion and Holy Trinity Lutheran. With a sound bright and brilliant rather than mellow -- acoustics that were no doubt the result of these magnificent houses of worship -- the disc is a shining tribute not only to Ars Nova and Viva Vivaldi, but to Buffalo, its splendid heritage and its sublime spirit of collaboration. This is music for the joy of it. 4 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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>Reggae

Matisyahu, "No Place to Be" (Epic). A CD/DVD package from the Hasidic reggae man and dancehall toaster, with seven new studio tracks complemented by the "Live In Israel" DVD, and a more than evident deepening of Matisyahu's rather bold melding of musics. A take on the Police classic "Message In A Bottle" is fueled by conviction and the visceral contributions of reggae geniuses Sly & Robbie. "Jerusalem (Out of Darkness Comes Light)" is shimmering dancehall with a rock edge. Throughout, Matisyahu's MC skills share space with his earnest tenor singing, and Roots Tonic -- guitarist Aaron Dugan, bassist/keyboardist Josh Werner and drummer Jonah David -- keeps the music rooted in the fire of live performance. A treat for the ears and eyes. 3 1/2 stars (J.M.)

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